By Sharon St Joan
In 1963, when archeologists first went to southeastern Turkey to investigate Gobekli Tepe, they found the surrounding hills littered with stone tools, remnants left by ancient hunter-gatherers, just on the verge of transitioning to a new age of pastoralists and farmers.
Andrew Collins writes about Gobekli Tepe in his very fascinating book – Gobekli Tepe – Genesis of the Gods. It must have been an extraordinary place for archeologist Klaus Schmidt to see when he visited there in 1994.
Who could explain these elegant, enigmatic columns – tall, well-finished and beautifully carved with animal forms – going back many, many thousands of years to around 9,500 BCE, thousands of years earlier than any other known megalithic structures? What language did these early people speak and what was their culture? What gods did they worship? What were their lives like? And what was the meaning of these great, eerie, magnificent, mysterious columns inscribed with such strange art and symbols?
There was certainly a meaning to these great creations in stone, and these are our ancestors – one way or another – over 12,000 years their descendants must have spread both east and west, across the earth.
Back in 1963, when a joint Istanbul/Chicago team of archeologists visited Gobekli Tepe, the importance of the site, which had not been excavated, was not immediately apparent to them. Instead they focused on a site about one hundred and fifty miles to the north, Cayonu Tepesi. Cayonu Tepesi is a few miles from modern Diyarbakir, an ancient city first identified in Assyrian writings from around 1300 BCE, as being an Aramean or Aramaic city. (It’s a very long and very complex history.) This whole region in southeast Turkey lies not far north of the Syrian border.
Cayonu thrived between 8630 BCE and 6820 BCE, or about one thousand years later than the beginnings (unless there are earlier beginnings not yet excavated) of Gobekli Tepe. The people were using beaten, though not smelted, copper. They had domestic pigs, and had developed linen as a fabric. The site is near Gobekli Tepe and may well have been the same civilization.
The floors in the Cayonu buildings were extraordinary, in one case the flooring was composed of polished limestone slabs over six feet in length. In another building, the flooring, a hard polished surface of crushed lime and clay, was 16 inches thick.
In the interior of the rooms were stone posts and tall stone pillars.
Another Pre-Pottery Neolithic site, Nevali Cori, stands on a hill overlooking the Euphrates, thirty miles (forty-eight kilometers) north/northeast of Gobekli Tepe. Its heyday was between 8500 BCE to 7600 BCE, around the same time as Cayonu.
One of the rooms at Nevali Cori featured twelve columns, with the stone at the top of each column forming either a T or an L shape, like those at Gobekli Tepe. A separate elongated stone head was found, with a long ponytail. A pillar ten feet (3 meters) high, that still stands, was carved into a stylized human form, showing two hands around the body. The way that the hands are carved, with long narrow stylized fingers and no visible thumb, and their placement, is very reminiscent of the hands on the great stone statues, called moai, at Easter Island. The Easter Island heads are mostly not just heads, but can be seen to be torsos once they are uncovered from their burial under the earth. Many have hands just like this.
When German archeologist, Klaus Schmidt stood on the slope of Gobekli Tepe and looked across the scattered bits of sculpture strewn on the ground, he reached an alarming conclusion. He realized that if he did not leave immediately, he would feel compelled to devote the rest of his life to excavating this site. Fortunately for us, he did spend his remaining years at Gobekli Tepe. This was good because the entire hillside had been about to be turned into a giant quarry, from which to dig up stones for the construction of a new highway. Without Klaus Schmidt’s intervention to save the site, the world would never have glimpsed any of Gobekli Tepe, now believed to be the world’s oldest known megalithic structure.
Top photo: Teomancimit / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / A Gobekli Tepe pillar; the carved animals are believed to be a bull, a fox, and a crane.
Second photo: Krahenstein / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Cayonu Tepesi, the Skull Building.
Andrew Collin’s book, Gobekli Tepe, Genesis of the Gods is available on Amazon, click here.
© Sharon St Joan, 2016